Fr. Albright celebrates 90 years — 61 on campus

Fr. Gerard Albright celebrated his 90th birthday April 3 with many family members, alumni, students, faculty and friends.

A long time familiar figure on campus, Fr. Albright started at the university in 1955 as a part-time professor. Five years later, he became a full-time faculty member. 

Since then, Fr. Albright has served as department chair of biology, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education and a member of numerous university committees over his 61-year tenure.

Fr. Albright has taught 19 different courses over the years, and instructed more than 4,000 students. 

Many people came to the university on April 3 to honor Fr. Albright.

Among them were several members of his family, including his sister-in-law, Gwendolin Albright; two nieces, LeAnn Reyes and Karen Meyers; and a nephew, Duane Albright.

During summers, Fr. Albright stayed with his brother’s family in Plymouth, which they all enjoyed.

Gwendolin Albright recalled Fr. Albright climbing to the roof of their house in the summers to look at the star constellations and to teach everyone about them.

Reyes, Meyers and Duane Albright all remembered coming to campus to visit their Uncle Gerry.

They said they had to wait for Fr. Albright to come get them, because they weren’t allowed to walk around the Jesuit residence, Lansing-Reilly Hall. 

For one visit around her birthday, Meyers said, Fr. Albright asked one of his students to bake a cake for Meyers.

Other guests at the celebration included Yvonne and William Wade, university alumni – and the first couple that Fr. Albright ever married. 

The Wades wed at Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church in Royal Oak in 1963. Fr. Albright would later baptize their children at Gesu Catholic Church.

Alums Reneé and Neil Fraser took one of Fr. Albright’s courses together in 1986, seven years before he married them.

Guests were encouraged to share memories of Fr. Albright by writing short cards available at the celebration.

Alum Jon Reed, 1964, wrote, “Fr. Albright was my pre-marriage counselor, and helped greatly in getting my head straight about life, commitment and responsibility. I probably wouldn’t be married to my wonderful wife, Joan, if not for him.”

Even some current university members had stories to share.

“When Fr. Gerry told me that he had received a mail-order bride catalog in the mail and was showing it to his Jesuit colleagues, I laughed harder than I have ever laughed before,” said Dr. Matt Mio, associate professor of chemistry and a 1991 UDM alum.

Senior Paige Dykema participated, as well.

“I had a class in his lecture hall in Ford Life Sciences before comparative anatomy and dropped an apple down the incline and it landed in the front,” Dykema said. “Next class, Fr. Albright had comparative anaromy, grabbed the apple and took a huge bite out of it.”

Fr. Albright, who still teaches, has made a large impact over the years.

“In my busy family medicine practice, I use skills and knowledge gained from Fr. Albright’s classes regularly, particularly when examining specimens under the microscope,” said Dr. Theresa (Kulling) Thomas, class of 2001. “I attribute my success to professors like him.”

Dr. John McLean, a former professor and longtime friend of Fr. Albright’s, also made a special trip to the university for the birthday celebration.

“Gerry was a very kind, considerate, scholarly colleague, and his focus was always on the students,” he said. “He’s a wonderful man.”

Reyes, Fr. Albright’s niece, said she used to often worry about her uncle, fearing that he was lonely. But she said she does not feel that way anymore.

“We are his family by blood,” she said, “but the people at UDM are really a big part of his family, too.”